"If I cannot listen to the subtle manifestation of rich reality in my environment, I will necessarily try to impose my wilful codes on others. If I am not open to reality and do not obey the voice of reality, a terrible distortion takes place. Sooner or later I will turn the whole relationship around: Instead of listening to reality in people and events, I become convinced that reality in people and events should listen to me."

[Adrian van Kaam, The Art of Existential Counseling, Dimension Books, 1966, 80.]

Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (28 April 2019)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Jnat-cathedral-mosaic2

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:19-31 – NRSV).

Introductory notes

General

The story of Thomas here is unique to John’s Gospel. Otherwise, we find a similar passage to that of John, in Luke 24:36-42. The reference in 1 Corinthians 15:5 sounds similar also.

Specific

the doors of the house etc: It is worth noting that John is the only one who speaks of “fear of the Jews” at this time. In the other Gospels, we hear of fear among the guards and the women as they see the angelic vision at the tomb – see Mark 16:8, Matthew 28:4, 5, & 8 and Luke 24:5 – and the women and the disciples as they see Jesus – see Matthew 28:10 and Luke 24:37. One commentator describes the scene as presented by John: “The reason the doors were locked was their fear of the Jews: the authorities had seen to it that their leader was executed, so it would have been relatively easy for them to pick off his followers had they decided to do so. But the function of the locked doors in John’s narrative, both here and in v. 26, is to stress the miraculous nature of Jesus’ appearance amongst his followers. As his resurrection body passed through the grave-clothes (v. 6–8), so it passed through the locked doors and simply ‘materialized’ (cf. notes on vv. 14–15). It is tempting, with Bruce (p. 391), to find in this episode the inspiration for the practice of the early church, when it met together on Sunday evenings, to invoke Christ’s presence with them in the words, Marana tha! (‘Come, O Lord!’, 1 Cor. 16:22b).” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 646.)

Peace be with you: Jesus had promised his disciples peace – see John 14:27 and 16:33. The Hebrew greeting šâlōm has a here-and-now focus – “may you experience the peace of God now”. The greeting also carries an eschatological focus – “may you experience the unqualified well-being of God’s kingdom”. The greeting should be linked with Jesus’ final words: “It is finished”. Peace is a distinctive mark of the kingdom that is ushered in through Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Significantly, St Paul – in every one of his Letters – opens with this greeting. He also adds “grace” to “peace”.

he showed them his hands and his side: Jesus’ wounds are proof that it is really him and proof also that his death – his exaltation – was indeed a victory. Thomas will not believe unless/until he sees these authenticating marks.

he breathed on them: In Genesis 2:7 we have an account of creation in which it is said that God takes up the soil of the earth, breathes into it, and humanity comes into existence. Add to this John’s reference to this being “the first day of the week” and you have a statement by John that this is a new creation. See also Ezekiel 37:9–10 and Wisdom 15:11 for a similar use of “breathing” as a metaphor for God at work.

If you forgive the sins of any etc: “The disciples, who have been with him from the beginning (cf. 15:27), will continue the presence of Jesus to a later generation. .... However much they have failed Jesus they have never been failed by the love of God made manifest in Jesus. This author’s presentation of Jesus’ unfailing love for both Peter and Judas makes this point most dramatically. The immensity of the love of God has shone forth in Jesus’ loving gift of self in the midst of their failure (cf. especially 13:19). .... Their experience in the locked room encapsulates their response throughout the Gospel. They are at the same time full of fear yet joyful in the presence of the risen Jesus. Jesus’ words to the frightened yet joyful disciples on their future mission must be understood against this background. Through their ministry sins are to be forgiven and retained. Another use of the passive (cf. vv. 1, 6–7) makes it clear that the disciples are missioned to do God’s work, not their own. They are to bring the peace and joy received on the evening of that first day of the week from the risen Jesus (see v. 19) to later generations of frightened disciples of Jesus (cf. 15:18–16:3). The Paraclete’s ongoing—yet divisive—revelation will lay bare sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. 16:7–11). Thus the disciples, empowered by the Spirit, in the midst of their fear and joy will be the agents for the future sanctification of generations of believers. Jesus’ instruction of the disciples is recalled. The gift of the Spirit-Paraclete will render the absent Jesus present within the worshiping community (cf. 14:18–21), sharing their experience so that the world might know and believe that Jesus is the Sent One of the Father (cf. 17:21–23). The mission of the disciples renders present the holiness of the absent Jesus (cf. 17:17–19). They will bring God’s forgiveness for all sin that is to be forgiven, and lay bare all sinfulness (v. 23). This latter aspect may seem harsh, but it flows naturally from the story of Jesus. This element in the new situation established through the power of Jesus is “the power to isolate, repel and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus by the Father and given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commissions” (Brown, Gospel 2:1044). Sanctification may lead to blessedness before God, but it also has the hard edge of exposing all that rejects the love lavished upon the world by a God who sent his only son (cf. 3:16–17).” (Francis Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 532-33.)

Reflection

One of the most remarkable passages in the Bible is found in Chapter 6 of Isaiah. The prophet has a vision “in the year King Uzziah died” – about the year 740 BC. He “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple” (v.1). There were heavenly creatures in attendance “and one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (v.3). At this “The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke” (vv.4-5) and Isaiah exclaims: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v.5). At this moment the prophet is anointed with a “live coal” by one of the heavenly creatures. Isaiah continues: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” (v.8).

The prophet encounters the Lord Yahweh, he is unmade, the very foundations of his life are shaken, he is anointed . . . he is ready to be sent! Isaiah has a radical new sense of himself and the world. He is now God’s servant, ready for God’s work. A similar pattern emerges with the first disciples of Jesus. Their encounter with the Lord Yahweh at work in Jesus of Nazareth – his passing over through death to life – has unmade them. Saturday – the day after the crucifixion – holds a special key to understanding this unmaking They are anointed by the risen Lord and they are now ready to be sent as prophets of the Kingdom. The locked room where they hide from the world – and from themselves? – is broken into by the Risen Lord. “The pivots on the thresholds shook . . .”

Patrick White, in his remarkable novel, Voss, reminds us of how an unmaking is necessary to our becoming fully alive. The eccentric German explorer, Johann Ulrich Voss, finds himself descending into delirium in the outback. He dreams of Laura Trevelyan back in Sydney. In one of his dreams he receives the revelation from her: “It is the woman who unmakes men, to make saints” (Patrick White, Voss, Vintage Classics, 1957/2012, 188). Is it not true that one of the functions of love is to unmake us in order to re-make us? Love engenders a new creation. That is the wonder of love.

It is not surprising that we find this going on when the disciples encounter the Risen Lord. They had grown to love this man. But they did not yet really know him. They had to be unmade in order to know him in order to know the depth of his love. They feel the power of that love. They are sent!